Education and Training: Bachelor's degree plus training
Salary: Average—$45,000 to $50,000 per year
Employment Outlook: Excellent
Definition and Nature of the Work
Orthoptists treat imbalances of the muscles of the eye or the nerves that serve those muscles. Many of their patients have amblyopia—commonly called lazy eye—or strabismus—known as cross-eye. Orthoptists also treat vision problems that arise from strokes or head injuries.
Patients with such disorders do not have proper binocular vision; that is, their eyes do not work together as they should. Using diagnostic instruments and procedures, orthoptists determine appropriate treatments, which often include exercising eye muscles or temporarily covering one eye with a patch so the other eye works more effectively. Orthoptists work mainly with children because these vision problems are usually present and noticed in childhood.
Orthoptists usually work under the supervision of ophthalmologists, who are medical doctors specializing in diseases of the eye. Orthoptists work in hospitals, clinics, private doctors' offices, and medical centers.
Education and Training Requirements
To enter orthoptist training programs, applicants must have bachelor's degrees from accredited colleges or universities. Degrees in science are preferred. Training programs usually last about twenty-four months and include both classroom and clinical work. Orthoptists who complete approved programs must pass exams to become certified.
Getting the Job
Graduates of training programs can apply directly to ophthalmologists for employment. School placement offices and the American Association of Certified Orthoptists usually have information about job openings. Professional journals, newspaper classified ads, and job banks on the Internet may also provide employment leads.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Orthoptists advance by taking on more responsibility in the care of patients with cross-eye and related vision problems. Sometimes they also help in the training of new orthoptists.
Employment opportunities should be good over the next decade because more openings exist than there are qualified orthoptists. Demand should also grow as more ophthalmologists make use of the special training of orthoptists.
Because this is a very specialized field, most jobs are located in or near major cities. Orthoptists often work in ophthalmologists' offices and keep the same hours, usually forty hours per week. Some evening or Saturday work may be required. Part-time work is sometimes available.
Because they treat patients who have handicaps that can be emotionally upsetting, orthoptists have to be understanding, enthusiastic, and encouraging. They should be good teachers who can explain eye exercises clearly, especially to children.
Where to Go for More Information
American Association of Certified Orthoptists and American Orthoptic Council
3914 Nakoma Rd.
Madison, WI 53711
Earnings and Benefits
Salaries vary depending on experience, position, and location. The American Medical Association reported that in 2000 the average salary of orthoptists in the United States ranged from $45,000 to $50,000 per year. Some orthoptists earned more than $80,000 per year. Benefits generally included paid holidays and vacations and health insurance.